The elections that followed the Arab uprisings elevated Islamists out of decades of repression and into the region’s most powerful posts. Here in Egypt, a former prisoner became president.
But to Salafists, adherents of a puritanical form of Islam who have embraced the country’s new freedoms with gusto, the emerging Islamist order has a serious flaw: It isn’t nearly Islamist enough.
“They say that the people do not want sharia,” said Gamel Saber, a back-slapping Salafist activist who said he dreams of a day when his country’s courts will fully implement Islamic law. “But that is not true. They are ready.”
Saber’s dream is shared by millions of allies across North Africa, and that reality is proving to be the most serious challenge yet for the months-old governments struggling to find their feet in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
As moderate Islamist leaders in all three countries begin to craft post-revolutionary constitutions, the Salafists in their midst are pushing — sometimes at the ballot box, sometimes at the point of a gun — to create societies that more closely mirror their ultraconservative religious beliefs and lifestyles.
Raise your hand if you are surprised. Didn’t think so.
During Barack Obama’s great Libyan adventure, I wrote repeatedly on the folly of overthrowing a rather pathetic dictator, Muamar Qaddafi, in favor of people we knew little about and the little we did know about them was unsavory. (See here | here | here | here | here | here | here). It also did not go unobserved that the Muslim Brotherhood was extremely well positioned to take over in Egypt.
But the Obama regime, as part of its feeble attempt to play a weak and malleable man as a heroic figure, desperately needed a victory where they could show up the evil George Bush by accomplishing what was done in Iraq with a fraction of the effort.
As a result we have transformed three countries — Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt — from null sets or allies into hotbeds of islamic radicalism.
If you want a quick explanation for why the Obama regime failed to react to intelligence warnings, denied enhanced security to the now dead ambassador and lied about it all (here | here) you need to look no further than election year atmospherics. How would it look if the crown jewel of Obama’s meager foreign policy achievements was seeming to fall under the control of the very people we’ve been actively fighting since 2001, the same that were studiously ignored by Bill Clinton.
The militia’s commander, Ismail Salabi, said the group exists only to contribute to the development of a secure Libya. But he said his fighters espouse specific views on what a secure, successful Libya would look like.
Choosing one’s leadership is “not against Islam,” he said.
But he explained that any vote that granted women the right to travel without the permission of male relatives would be. Where democracy ends and personal freedoms begin has a different definition for Salafists than it does for others, he said.
“We believe in the existence of other opinions that respect Islam,” he said. “We don’t respect any opinion that goes against Islam.”
And so here we are. We’ve handed over most of North Africa to our enemies. We’ve allowed our people to be killed and our facilities to be sacked. It will take decades and billions of dollars… and maybe thousands of lives… to return the situation to where it was when Barack Obama was elected.